Recently, Federal Housing Advocate Marie-Josée Houle released an Interim Report on human rights issues within encampments across the country. The report highlights gendered experiences in encampments, shedding crucial light on the often overlooked experiences of women and gender-diverse people living in encampments.
The report highlights a stark reality: many women and gender-diverse people turn to encampments due to a lack of gender-specific shelters or the presence of gender-based barriers in existing shelter systems. The report emphasizes the need for rights-based approaches to encampments that prioritize safety, dignity, and agency for women and gender-diverse people who are unhoused.
Read the Interim Report, and check out the Advocate’s comments on gendered experiences on encampments here:
Gendered Experiences in Encampments
Gender shapes the pathways into, and experiences of, encampments. Roundtables indicated that some women and gender-diverse people reside in encampments because there are no gender-specific shelters in their community, shelters are full, or because they experience gender-based barriers to accessing shelters or housing. Roundtables also revealed that women, transwomen, and gender-diverse people commonly experience harassment or violence within large mainstream homeless shelters, particularly co-ed and congregate shelters, meaning that many are forced to choose between living in situations of violence, hidden homelessness, or residing unsheltered or in encampments.
Women and gender-diverse people report nuanced and complex experiences in encampments of both heightened safety and heightened risk as well as isolation and community. While some women and gender-diverse people report safety concerns related to residing outdoors and in encampments (e.g., vulnerability to physical violence), some women and gender-diverse people report that residing in an encampment is a safer option amongst the other options available to them (e.g., accessing a shelter, returning to an abusive relationship). Previous reports suggest that encampments can buffer women from exposure to violence, harassment, or abuse that they might otherwise experience when residing outdoors alone, or within situations of hidden homelessness. In some cases, encampment evictions eroded the security systems, safety measures, and mutual aid systems women and gender-diverse people had adopted for themselves and their communities within encampments.
In other cases, roundtables revealed unique safety risks for women and gender-diverse people, including sexual and physical violence. For example, a trans woman shared her experience: “Living in the camps was hell. I was beaten, robbed. I got judged for being a trans woman. It was hard to find a place.” Experiences of violence, exploitation, or coercion within encampments is a particular concern for young girls and gender-diverse people, those with disabilities, and persons experiencing multiple forms of marginalization. While gender-based violence occurs in encampments and is a violation of human rights in all settings, roundtables revealed that gender-based violence is common across all forms of homelessness. This suggests that housing precarity, rather than the context of encampments themselves, is correlated with gender-based violence.
While the conditions of encampments often fail to meet the basic needs of women and gender-diverse people, they are also circumstances in which women and gender-diverse people may have greater agency, autonomy, and dignity to determine the circumstances of their lives. For some women and gender-diverse people, residing in encampments provides an alternative to shelters or systems that evicted them and have been involved in profound harm to them, including the violence of having their children apprehended due to their housing status or poverty. Nonetheless, women and gender-diverse people residing in encampments also experience unique barriers to maintaining their sexual and reproductive health, including barriers to accessing prenatal and postnatal care. These complex experiences illustrate the ways in which the choice to reside in encampments are inherently tied to the inequities, violence, and underinvestment within other systems.
As we celebrate the release of this report, let’s champion a collective effort towards gender-sensitive solutions that address the nuanced experiences of women and gender-diverse people in encampments. Sign up for our newsletter for upcoming research and action on this!
Visit the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate’s Website to learn more about the full report.